Friday, February 9, 2018

Toad The Wet Sprocket 4: Dulcinea

While they hadn’t become “hot”, Toad The Wet Sprocket racked up plenty of mileage over the time it took their third album to be noticed. That bought them some time to hone Dulcinea, another good mix of accessible college folk-rock, with some harder, darker songs too.
Mainstream attention didn’t mean the songs would be dumbed down at all, and indeed, it was at least a decade before we noticed that “Fly From Heaven” (which begins “Paul is making me nervous”) is sung from the point of view of James, brother of Jesus, concerned that the next generation of apostles would distort his martyred brother’s message. Even without that knowledge, it’s got a yearning quality and another catchy chorus. “Woodburning” is one of the heavier tunes, along the lines of the songs the band Live was having bigger hits with around this time. The furrowed brow in that song carries over to “Something’s Always Wrong”, which is much more straightforward musically and lyrically. Some dark humor emerges in “Stupid”, which only takes a few listens to make it plain that the guy’s wife is in congress with the handyman. Romantic woes are covered further in “Crowing”, a sad look at a doomed relationship from the outside, and inside perhaps, that turns into a growl of frustration on “Listen”.
“Windmills” is the most direct tie-in with the album title, though by now just about all the songs appear to be about an unattainable ideal. Its gentleness is nicely paired with the humor in “Nanci”, wherein a couple (perhaps the one from “Stupid”) argues over splitting up their record collection. While certainly radio-friendly, “Fall Down” was possibly the weakest song on the album to be chosen as the first single, maybe because it’s got “down” in the title. The microphone goes over to guitarist Todd Nichols for two songs—first the driving “Inside”, which gives him a chance to shred, and the much spookier “Begin”. Due to the different timbre in his voice, which is mixed low anyway, the words are hard to follow, and the screwed-up typeface in the liner notes doesn’t help. The latter song appears to be coming to grips with a death in the family, which aptly sets up the finale. “Reincarnation Song” begins quietly, with Glenn Phillips singing in almost a character voice, a little cracked, in all senses of the word. The band joins gradually, as the narrator moves from death to a supposed afterlife, onto to emerge back in the world again as a newborn. And just as the fifth chord in the repeated sequence descends further, singer and guitar let loose, howls competing with feedback for an extended jam that will stand your hair on your neck if you let it.
Dulcinea is not an immediately easy listen, particularly given the vagueness in the lyrics, but the album as a whole sports a full, live sound, helping it to seep into the psyche. Hard to believe it’s already this old, but it was indeed a highlight in a busy year filled with excellent music.

Toad The Wet Sprocket Dulcinea (1994)—4

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